Wednesday June 19, 2019

Rescued Bonded Laborers Need Psychological Help to Battle Mental Trauma: Study

Some rescued bonded laborers are coming together to lobby for their rights and share their stories

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Bonded laborers
India announced an ambitious goal last year to rescue more than 18 million bonded laborers by 2030. VOA
  • Freedom becomes an alien concept to bonded laborers and they constantly battle with their captivity mentality
  • India announced an ambitious goal last year to rescue more than 18 million bonded laborers by 2030
  • While survivors of sex trafficking often receive help in shelter homes, rescued bonded laborers simply return to their villages and completely shut down
 After his rescue from abuse and overwork as a bonded laborer in a brick kiln in south India, Shanmugam Paneer has set up his own business making household items from bamboo.But the lifeless monotone he uses to describe his five-year ordeal betrays an inner struggle to move on from one of India’s most prevalent forms of human trafficking.

“For many, the process of coming out with the truth is far more painful than actually living those years in bondage,” said Loretta Jhona, a counselor with the U.S.-based charity International Justice Mission.

“Freedom becomes an alien concept and they constantly battle with their captivity mentality.”

Though India banned bonded labor in 1976, it remains widespread, with millions working in fields, brick kilns, rice mills, and brothels, or as domestic workers to pay off debts.

India announced an ambitious goal last year to rescue more than 18 million bonded laborers by 2030 and to increase fivefold the compensation that is paid to them, as part of a wider drive to tackle modern slavery.

Rescued workers need more psychological help to become truly free, counselors say, as they are often too scared to admit to suffering, such as sexual abuse, for fear of retribution from their former owners.

 bonded laborers
Young Indian bonded child laborers wait to be processed at a safe house after being rescued during a raid by workers from Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save the Childhood Movement, at a factory in New Delhi, India, June 11, 2013. VOA

“People are released physically but not really released from the burden of the debt, or the mental trauma they have undergone,” said Umi Daniel, a migration expert at the Aide et Action International charity.

Many former slaves instinctively curl up in their beds, used to spending a couple of hours sleeping in a cramped space, Jhona told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While survivors of sex trafficking often receive help in shelter homes, rescued bonded laborers simply return to their villages and completely shut down.

“Very often there is no talk of the years spent in bondage,” said Jhona, adding that workers often find it hard to tell her of their hopes for the future.

“They ask us how they can have aspirations when even to eat or sleep they needed permission from their owners,” she said.

ALSO READ: India accounts for almost 40 percent of the worldwide laborers

“It is heartbreaking to see people with nil dreams and no aspirations, even for their children. They don’t think a better future can exist and most refuse to talk about any of it for months.”

No fear

Some rescued bonded laborers are coming together to lobby for their rights and share their stories.

Rukamana Deep says he finally “felt free” when he gave a lecture at the Odisha National Law University in April, describing how his family of four were trapped in a brick kiln.

Deep was able to tell his tale in detail, recounting his anger, despair, and helplessness as they worked round the clock to make up to 1,000 bricks a day for 100 Indian rupees ($1.56).

“There was no fear that day,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from his village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. “I just wanted to tell my story.”

Deep says his confidence comes from the fact that he knows he is not alone, after attending monthly meetings of a migrant bonded labor forum, Dadan Goti Shramik Surakshya Manch.

“We just talk about a lot of things, including the present challenges and the past problems,” he said. “We understand each other and also create teams that immediately reach out to recently rescued workers. It’s important for them to talk.”

Daniel, of Aide et Action International, believes such forums are critical.

“It’s a big step in their healing process,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

Human Trafficking Across Myanmar-China Border Continues to Increase

“Last year there were 40 cases last year, and at about this time last year we had 16 cases, but this year we’ve already had 19 cases"

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human trafficking
In a file photo, Marip Lu sits in her family's shelter in a refugee camp in northern Kachin State, Myanmar. She claims she was kidnapped by traffickers and suffered six years of captivity, rape and abuse deep in China. RFERL

The number of women from Myanmar being trafficked for marriage to Chinese husbands is increasing, according to statistics kept by officials stationed at the Myanmar-China border.

Police Chief Kyaw Nyunt of Myanmar’s Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force in Muse District explained that many of the women being trafficked are tricked into crossing the border with promises of a better life, but once they arrive in China, they are at the mercy of traffickers.

“Currently instances of brides being trafficked to China continues to increase,” said Kyaw Nyunt. “They lure [women] in various ways, like [advertising] job opportunities, but in most cases they are sold as brides to Chinese [men],” he said.

Statistics are finalized at the end of the calendar year, but according to the police chief, the trafficking in 2019 is occurring at a faster pace than it was in 2018. “Last year there were 40 cases last year, and at about this time last year we had 16 cases, but this year we’ve already had 19 cases,” he said.

“The main cause of trafficking is economic hardship,” said Nan Kham Mai, the Vice Chairwoman of the Shan Literature and Culture Association in Muse. Pixabay

Most of the trafficked victims are women from Central and Lower Myanmar, which, according to Unicef, are areas where poverty rates are in excess of 30% and reach as high as 46% in the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) region. Kyaw Nyunt said most come from the Yangon region.

“The main cause of trafficking is economic hardship,” said Nan Kham Mai, the Vice Chairwoman of the Shan Literature and Culture Association in Muse. She said that the trafficking situation would be less severe if the economy were better.

“Locals here have advantages with language skills and their ability to travel in and out of the region, so I think [trafficking] could ease a little once the economy gets better and there are more job opportunities. Traffickers usually lure [women away] with jobs, saying there’s a wage gap between our country and [China],” she said.

In an effort to educate the public about the dangers in trafficking, Muse district officials and civil society organizations launched their third annual anti-trafficking campaign on Friday, erecting billboards and holding a rally at the border crossing.

human trafficking
There are [many] cases of human trafficking between Myanmar and China, and women are subjected to violence and forced marriages. Pixabay
“There are [many] cases of human trafficking between Myanmar and China, and women are subjected to violence and forced marriages. We need to protect them,” said Maung Maung Win, secretary general of the local YMCA.

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“As part of our campaign, we are having public rallies and activities like sports, music and entertainment to get the public to join our movement,” he said.

The local YMCA itself has been campaigning against human trafficking for nine years, but the secretary general said that public support and cooperation with authorities and other groups was necessary in order to stop the traffickers. “We have a better chance to succeed once the government and philanthropic organizations join together,” he said. (VOA)

Reported by Ye Htet for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann. Written in English by Eugene Whong.